You know a jazz singer’s album is in trouble when you keep wishing the singer would stay quiet, so you could hear the music. That was my experience of Roseanna Vitro’s tribute to the pianist Bill Evans.
Vitro’s band is wonderful. Pianists Fred Hersch, Mark Soskin and Allen Farnham each distinguish themselves equally and bassist Eddie Gomez, who actually played with Evans, gives melodic assist especially on the opening “My Bells”. I enjoyed hearing them play together, but . . . well, I’ve already indicated what I think is wrong with Thoughts of Bill Evans.
It isn’t that Vitro doesn’t have a rich voice, she does. But there’s just something about her tone which is rather stale. She’s good, but I don’t think she’s better than any other New York jazz singer, if you see what I mean—competent, but nothing that stops the breath. She never seems to fully emotionally connect with the music, and tends to attack where I would have preferred her to be a little more laid-back and mellow. Time after time on this recording, one of the three pianists featured sets the scene and send ripples across the soul. And then Vitro dives in, and it’s like having the still, serene beauty of the water broken by a loud swimmer.
Another thing: This music doesn’t need words. The All-Music Guide has said that “Evans’ musical structures can be difficult to deal with just as instrumentals, never mind when lyrics have been added. His music can be jagged and quirky and was usually composed without any idea of accommodating the needs of a lyricist.” It shows. Even Gene Lees, who worked with Evans himself and is the most-featured lyricist on this album, was unable to come up with anything which gives to, rather than cutting into, the songs.
I don’t question that Vitro’s passion for the work of Evans is as genuine as anyone else who has ever paid tribute to the pianist. In a way, her voice is at it’s best here on the wordless vocals, when she becomes another instrument in a fine band. But, as soon as the lyrics attach themselves to the songs, they sink like a weighted balloon. I sympathize with Ms. Vitro. It cannot be easy being a jazz singer in 2001. But, for all her conviction, this is not an album that really sells her to me.